Sony Ericsson has released a large number of Android handsets this year under the Xperia brand, eight in total and this doesn’t include the minor variants of the Xperia arc (arc S) and Xperia neo (neo V). We have been testing Sony Ericsson’s newest handset, the Xperia ray and it’s safe to say that it is one of the most attractive both in looks, features and value.
We have been lucky enough to have played with almost all of the Xperia handsets, bar the Xperia pro, which still hasn’t been released in most territories. Our review will cover where the Xperia ray differs from the current Xperia lineup, both positive and negative. We’ll concentrate mainly on the hardware and less on the software as the latter is largely similar across all Xperia handsets and is constantly evolving (as covered by the blog). Click through for our full thoughts on the handset.
When you first hold the Xperia ray in your hands, what is most immediately apparent is the slightly unusual shape. The Xperia ray has a 3.3-inch display with a resolution of 480 x 854 pixels. However, this is packed into a chassis that is 53mm in width (same as the Xperia mini pro) and 111mm tall – this makes it 19mm taller than the mini pro. So whereas the mini pro feels like a more traditional shape for a phone size (albeit smaller), the Xperia ray seems somewhat elongated. Whilst this feels a bit strange at first, you do get used to it pretty quickly.
Left picture (from left to right) -Xperia arc, Xperia X10, Xperia PLAY, Xperia ray, Xperia mini pro Right picture (from left to right) -Xperia arc, Xperia ray and Xperia mini pro
Apart from the shape, the phone feels very nice in the hand. We have been playing with a black model, which comes with a matte (almost rubbery) back cover that means there is little chance of clouding the handset with fingerprint marks. The aluminium chassis is mostly felt in the sides of the handset and gives it a nice premium feel. The handset is one of the lightest Xperia models coming in at 100g, lighter than even the 3-inch Xperia X8.
A piece of glass covers almost the entire front face of the handset making it a very attractive handset to look at. This combined with the aluminium chassis means that the phone feels very sturdy in the hand, with no noticeable creaking. The front of the handset has just one physical button (for Home) and uses touch sensitive buttons for the back and menu functions. This is much like the Xperia mini pro, however Sony Ericsson did not include backlit keys for the back/menu buttons which is a shame as these do exist on the mini pro.
The Xperia ray has no backlit keys – Xperia ray on left, Xperia mini pro on right
There is also no indicator light, instead the arc around the home button will light up in various colours to give notifications i.e. red when battery low, green when battery full, flashing green when you have missed calls/messages etc.
The only thing you’ll find on the front face of the handset is an all-important front-facing camera, which is non-existent on the Xperia arc. It’s nice to see its inclusion here, especially considering the thin chassis.
Thankfully, the designers of the handset put a much better power button on the top of the Xperia ray, compared to the stiff little button on the Xperia arc. The button protrudes a little and has excellent feedback, which means locking the handset isn’t the challenge it is on the arc. The Xperia ray also wins brownie points for putting a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top of the handset (both the Xperia arc and Xperia PLAY had the jack inexplicably on the side). The plastic surrounding the headphone jack has also been raised, whereas normally you just find a hole. We speculate that this may have been done to reinforce the plastic to avoid cracking, a problem we have seen on many people’s Xperia arc’s, including our own.
On the right side of the handset, you’ll notice that there is no dedicated camera button. This may be an issue to some, but personally we have no problems using touch capture. The volume on/off keys are quite narrow but feedback is good and we didn’t have any problems hitting the desired key whilst on a call. The left side of the handset has a micro-USB socket.
Moving on from the design, one of the highlights of the Xperia ray has to be its display. It has the highest PPI of any Xperia handset at 297 PPI and it certainly shows with pin-sharp text rendering. It makes us long even more for a similar pixel density in a larger screen device as it’s somewhat difficult to go back to the Xperia arc once you’ve seen how sharp the screen can be. This is a TFT LCD display, but visibility in sunlight is still reasonably good as with other Xperia handsets. It also comes with the Bravia engine that helps with contrast and saturation when viewing media on the phone.
One disappointing aspect is the screen sensitivity. Now we’re not sure whether we’re alone on this, but we had problems with touchscreen sensitivity on more than one occasion. We found that we needed to tap two or three times to register a command. Sometimes pressing harder on the screen would work, but given that this is a capacitive and not resistive screen, we wonder why this should be the case. We’re not sure exactly what’s behind the issue, but it was enough of a problem to prove frustrating.
The Xperia ray is probably the company’s first small form-factor handset to come with the same capacity 1500mAh battery of the larger Xperia ‘s (arc, PLAY, neo etc). Normally Sony Ericsson sticks in a 1200mAh battery for the mini line-up along with last year’s Xperia X8.
We have heard of a number of complaints from people about the Xperia ray battery life, but we’ve not experienced this ourselves. The battery life has been broadly similar the other larger Xperia handsets and will most likely last around a day and a half before needing more juice.
Despite having an 8.1MP camera sensor and LED flash the camera is a bit of a disappointment. We are somewhat perplexed why Sony Ericsson did not employ the use of a Flash setting, instead you get a Photo Light On/Off toggle in the settings (much like the Xperia X10). However, whereas the X10 was limited by the Android version at the time, there is absolutely no reason why Sony Ericsson should not have Flash enabled. It seems as if the company doesn’t want to cannibalise sales of its higher end Xperia arc handset, but as this appears to be a software limitation hopefully a workaround will come out soon. Staying with the camera, it’s also a shame that there is no dedicated shutter button. However, we’ve gotten used to using the touch capture function so it’s no big deal to us, although we imagine it will be to others.
Camera settings – Xperia ray uses a Photo light instead of flash
In terms of the quality of the photos themselves, we found them to be perfectly acceptable and towards the top tier from an Android phone. However, photo samples did appear softer than those compared to the Xperia arc. [Camera and video samples to follow - this review will be updated shortly]
Ever since the Xperia X10 had very low earpiece volumes, this is something that we always test first, especially since it is critical in using any phone. Luckily, much like most of the 2011 range of Xperia handsets, earpiece volume for the Xperia ray volume is very good. The same can be said of the speaker which packs a punch above its weight and is certainly loud enough for most usage scenarios bar the loudest ambient noise.
As mentioned earlier this is not an area we’ll concentrate too much on, but we wanted to mention two things. Firstly, typing on the keyboard is a PITA. Despite having the same resolution as the larger Xperia phones, given the narrow width of the handset, Sony Ericsson uses an alphanumeric keyboard as the default.
This can be changed to a QWERTY one in the options, but this is nigh on unusable in portrait mode given the size of the display. The problem is that when you switch to QWERTY in landscape mode it will often block the text that you are writing. When you compound all of this with the touchscreen sensitivity issues we mentioned above and typing can be a tiresome process.
On a more positive note, we noticed that Sony Ericsson has bundled some new energy saving software with the Xperia ray. The ‘Power save mode’ is an app that allows you to set certain parameters for each feature of your phone (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, Brightness, Screen timeout, Animation, Background data traffic, Auto-sync and Notification), so that if you are running out of battery you can enable this mode to automatically switch all unnecessary processes off to save battery. It’s a nifty function that we’re sure will appear on other Xperia handsets soon.
The Xperia ray is one of Sony Ericsson’s best offerings in 2011. The main feature it lacks versus its bigger brothers the Xperia arc and Xperia neo is the lack of HDMI. Whilst this is a shame, it would only have increased the cost and this is where Sony Ericsson will try to hit hard to compete against some strong competition. There are a few flaws though, the biggest for us being the touchscreen sensitivity and typing. The latter can be helped by using the Swype input text method (or SE’s own Swipe method in the Android 2.3.4 update), but the screen sensitivity issues do remain. Also, don’t expect the same camera performance as the Xperia arc, pictures come out softer and there is no Flash, just an on/off toggle for the photo light.
If you can work around these issues, we think this is one of the best all rounders that Sony Ericsson has produced in a while. It’s just a shame that all of the marketing has been targeted to prospective female customers as there is no shame in any man owning this phone. It is sleek, good looking and has a good feature set. At a sim-free price of £275 in the UK including the bundled Sony Ericsson Livesound headset (that normally retails for £50 on its own) we think the Xperia ray offers superb value overall.